Equity Taskforce requests diversity reform from Mason school district

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Image courtesy of Rhiannon Klein.

The Equity Taskforce of Mason sent a letter to the Board of Education requesting diversity and inclusion improvements in the school curriculum. 

Rhiannon Klein and Katelyne Thomas, founders of the Equity Taskforce, appeared before the district’s Diversity Committee March 10.

The taskforce was founded in February after Thomas, a fifth grade teacher, attempted to bring Black Lives Matter into her classroom curriculum for Black History Month. 

According to Klein, a superior told Thomas that Black Lives Matter falls under the “controversial issue” category of Board Policy 2240, which states controversial issues may not be taught in classrooms. 

After being taken to a reprimand meeting, Thomas resigned. She and Klein wrote the letter, which now has more than 70 signers, to the board. 

Klein said the letter has six main requests 

  • First, the letter asks to eliminate Board Policy 2240. 

Klein said the policy is applied “subjectively and loosely,” and the group is concerned that teachers have been unfairly reprimanded for violating the policy.

During public comment, community member Anne Rauscher said she is “troubled” by the policy. 

“I would like to see a district where students have the opportunity to respectfully discuss current events,” Rauscher said. “To me, it’s a good thing to learn that within the school. I know I had a lot of classes when I was in school, and we engaged in discussion about things going on in the world, and I would hate to see the door close for that because too many things fit as a ‘controversial issue.’”

  • Secondly, the group asks for the removal of the Mason Diversity Committee co-chair and calls for the appointment of new chairs. 

“We’re looking to infuse some new life into the Diversity Committee,” Klein said. “We’re hoping to have possibly a parent of color volunteer for that role, or a teacher to volunteer for that role, so that we can get a little bit more interaction and a little bit more excitement within the Diversity Committee itself.” 

Thomas said leaders need to be prepared to further their own education on issues of diversity.

“Forward growth requires that we have leaders on this committee who volunteer and are committed to growing in their own anti-racist education,” Thomas said. “We need leaders on this committee who prioritize — and have a personal investment in — seeing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives start now, and not tabled for next year.”

  • The group’s third ask is that the Mason Public Schools Policy and Curriculum Committee include the National Educators Association-approved Black Lives Matter at School curriculum from K-12. 

According to the Diversity Committee’s survey of 131 Mason teachers, only 47.3% of respondents agree that students are given opportunities to learn about different races or cultures Just more than 40% indicated students are not given such opportunities. 

Additionally, more than half the respondents indicated students are not often encouraged to think critically about diversity, race and race-related topics. 

“Diversity needs to be taught year round, not just during February,” said elementary teacher Ellen Kerr-Dunsmore. 

  • Fourth, the group is calling Mason Public Schools to no longer remain neutral on issues of race and diversity. Klein and Thomas said inaction harms families of color in the district. 

“The lack of action continues to feed into our perpetual divide in the community and hinders the growth of students we are supposed to be educating for the real world, not just the world in Mason, Michigan,” Thomas said.

Klein said she hopes the district collaborates with teachers, parents and students to craft a statement of support for students and families. 

  • Fifth, the group requests an apology from the administration and school board for deeming Black Lives Matter a “controversial issue.”

“Accountability is the only way this district is going to make change and not headlines,” Thomas said. 

Lastly, the group asks for a publicly accessible document to see how the district is using diversity consultant Dr. Karlin Tichenor. 

Superintendent Ron Drzewicki deemed the efforts a “work in progress.”

“We’re just digging in deeper and deeper by the week, by the month with this topic,” Drzewicki said. “So, we’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of growth to experience, but I believe we’re taking the right steps in digging in.”